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The effect of school catchments on property purchases

  1. 14 September 2017
  2. By Nick Perman

It's that time of the year again – back to school season. Little ones, and not so little ones, have in the last few weeks been returning to infants, primary or secondary schools in their droves after the long summer break. 


School catchment areas also become a pivotal consideration for parents around this time. Parents, eager for their children to be in the best-performing schools, want to be in the right catchment areas to make this possible – and it seems are often willing to pay a premium to realise their dreams. 

Parents are willing to spend big to get their children into the ‘right’ school, with a quarter moving house to ensure they are in the ‘right’ catchment area. 

Research carried out by Santander Mortgages has revealed that prices in desirable areas are being pushed up by nearly £27,000 by parents determined to secure a place for their children at their chosen school. 

According to the findings, one in four parents with school-age children have either purchased or rented a new property with the right address for a particular catchment area. What’s more, they are willing to pay an additional 12% on top of the market value of a home to set their children on the right path. 

Some 51% sold their previous home to finance a move to a specific catchment area, while a fifth are renting and a further third acquired a second home. In some cases, the financial impact of this is considerable, with a quarter of parents admitting that they have overstretched themselves on their mortgage. 

Are school places encouraging lifestyle changes?

Drastic lifestyle changes are also sometimes needed, with a fifth having to downsize and a fifth having to change their job for the sake of their children’s educational needs. 

For some, though, the move is purely tactical and temporary. A quarter of families say they will move out of their area once their child leaves school. For others – four in 10 in fact – it’s even more temporary than that. Once their child has secured a place at their desired school, they plan to move out immediately. This trend is particularly prevalent in London, where an astonishing two thirds of parents plan to leave their new home as soon as the paperwork from the schools come through. 

What is the ‘education effect’ in London?

“Buyers with children of school age will do and pay anything to get their children a place,” said Jeremy Leaf, former residential chairman of RICS and currently an estate agent in north London. “It is quite normal for buyers to check the local Ofsted reports before they read the particulars for their preferred
properties. The education effect on property prices can extend well beyond the school run boundaries.”

In London, the catchment premium is most stark. Here, a third of all parents say they have purchased or rented a particular property with the school catchment area in mind – as a result, homes with the right addresses have seen their prices rise by around £81,000. 

What are the price premiums in other regions?

The catchment premium isn’t simply isolated to London and the South of England, however. The premium paid is £18,200 in the North East, where nearly four in 10 parents have bought or rented property close to good local schools, while in the East of England the premium is approximately £29,000 – although moving for the catchment area is much less common, with only one in 10 families in this region taking such action. 

Similar research carried out by Rightmove earlier this year into premiums in key catchment areas found that the average nationwide catchment area premium surrounding schools earmarked as “outstanding” by Ofsted stood at £52,000. 

While less affluent parents may therefore be effectively priced out of getting their kids into the best
performing state schools – in turn causing problems with social mobility and barriers for disadvantaged households – parents with the financial means and determination are willing to go to extreme lengths. And, when compared to fees for boarding or independent schools, the premiums parents have to pay are much, much lower. 

What sacrifices would parents make for the right school?

Still, sacrifices do, more often than not, have to be made when it comes to parents securing a school place for their child. As well as changing jobs and downsizing, the survey – which spoke to 4,014 parents with children of school-age – found that 19% had moved to an area they deemed unsafe, 26% moved to a location that was far away from family or friends, and 25% paid more for their new property than they can realistically afford. 

Living within a particular school catchment area, while desirable to many, is likely to include financial and lifestyle sacrifices, with such addresses nearly always coming with a premium attached. 
Nonetheless, it’s a trend that is showing no signs of fatigue, with 40% of those surveyed saying catchment areas will dictate where they choose to live if they move house before their child finishes school. 

Why are school places so important to parents?

The main motivation behind all this, of course, is for parents to ensure their children get the best possible start in life, at the best possible school. Such motivations aren’t going anywhere, so it seems highly likely that parents will continue to pay premiums for certain catchment areas.
Properties in London, for example, are already prohibitive, but in popular catchment areas price tags are likely to be even more hefty and competition fierce. Buyers are warned to not overstretch themselves financially, to do their research beforehand and to ensure they have the right mortgage deal where repayments are affordable. 

Catchment areas have long proved to be a divisive issue, and with many parents feeling obliged to pay premiums to secure their child a place at the best state schools, it is an issue that will continue to rear its head on a regular basis. Solution: ensure all schools are rated good or outstanding and give parents less reasons to move to particular catchment areas. In reality, though, such a proposition seems more than a tad fanciful.  

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